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‘The Sanctuary’ memorializes late community member

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L-R: Andrew, Jackie, Buddy, Micah and Howie Robin seated on The Sanctuary, a functional art piece created in memorial of father and husband Mark Robin, who passed away from ALS in 2017. PHOTO BY BELLA BUTLER.

Soul Shine event to celebrate Mark Robin, Eric Bertelson

By Bella Butler MANAGING EDITOR

CORRECTION: This article previously stated that Mark Robin was sick with ALS for 13 months. It has been updated to reflect that the duration of his illness was 16 months.

BIG SKY One day in May, passersby in Fire Pit Park noted a large structure that wasn’t there the day before. Word spread about the mysterious conglomerate of metal and wood, and people began asking about the “ship” in Town Center. 

The structure, a functional art piece that’s part bench and part spectacle, is a memorial to late Big Sky community member Mark Robin. It’s in fact not a ship nor any vessel of movement, but rather the opposite, Mark’s family suggests. It’s a place to spend a moment suspended in time, in peace, in memory; a Sanctuary. 

Mark, a prolific Big Sky figure, father, husband and cofounder of the Hungry Moose Market & Deli, died in 2017 after living with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, for 16 months. The summer before Mark’s passing, he and his family organized what became the first annual Soul Shine event, at the time an expression of gratitude to the community and eventually a celebration of Mark’s life and legacy in Big Sky. 

Typically held on the first Music in the Mountains concert of the summer in Town Center, Soul Shine is a vibrant evening of connection fostered by music, storytelling and fundraising. On June 23, Soul Shine 2022 will launch with the dedication of Mark’s memorial bench, called The Sanctuary, and will also celebrate the life of another Big Sky community member, Eric Bertelson, who died from ALS this winter. 

After morning meetings on June 13 with the Arts Council of Big Sky to prepare for this year’s Soul Shine, Mark’s wife, Jackie, was joined by her three sons, Andrew, Micah and Howie, and family friend Eliza Granger, at The Sanctuary where artist Ken VanDeWalle was putting the final touches on his creation: a plaque with words both about Mark and written by Mark to give the bench context. 

Andrew helps The Sanctuary’s artist, Ken VanDeWalle, install a plaque in Fire Pit Park on June 13. PHOTO BY BELLA BUTLER

Adorned with the letter Mark wrote to his community when he was diagnosed with ALS, the final words on the plaque read:

“Life is a blessing. Every day is a blessing. I am surrounded by so much love and beauty every day.” 

Micah suggested that maybe The Sanctuary is not only a place to honor Mark, but also the Big Sky that Mark lived in. 

“It’s kind of like a little homage to that period of time and trying to hold that dear,” Micah said. 

The Robins all nodded in agreement as Micah described the bench as a place for people to slow down. Indeed, it’s part of the original inspiration for the bench. 

“One of the things about Mark is he actually used to say, ‘I have no sanctuary.’” Jackie said. “The guy ran around doing a million things all the time … It was hard for him to kind of get his sanctuary.” 

Where he could take refuge, Jackie added, was on the trail and the river and in writing. In the last year since first meeting with Jackie, VanDeWalle’s task was encapsulating pieces of Mark’s sanctuaries as well as other aspects of his life into an art form. 

Resonant traits of Mark’s that the artist took away from conversations with the Robins were Mark’s uplifting spirit, his identity as a family man and community member, and his love for the outdoors.

“[I] wanted to communicate that into a three-dimensional object, the form and the curve, shape … But then taking that abstract, to really create a space, a protective space in a sense,” VanDeWalle said. 

The broad, sloped seats of the bench embrace the natural curve of your back and angle you toward the mountains and the Hungry Moose, places Mark loved. As VanDeWalle suggested, it’s both a restful, supportive seat and an uplifting space. 

“It’s a great place for people to relax,” Howie said. 

The shelter above the bench climbs upward from one end of the bench to the other, resembling the curve of a fly line snapping in the air. 

Andrew and Howie both agreed: what they first noticed about the piece was its size. 

“Mark was a little larger than life in Big Sky,” Jackie said. “And when it came time to creating something in his memory we wanted to represent that.” 

The Sanctuary is not only a reminder of who Mark was, but also of the adversity that he faced with ALS, an experience that has now touched another family in
Big Sky. 

Eric Bertelson battled ALS for nearly two years before his passing in February, and his wife Janie and three sons will join the Robins this year at Soul Shine to celebrate Eric’s life. 

“I just want people to remember him as that happy, dedicated family man who loved life and was an active physical, athletic human being,” Janie said. 

Eric Bertelson (left) and his wife, Janie pose together. Eric passed away from ALS in 2022. PHOTO COURTESY OF JANIE BERTELSON.

Eric had the chance to attend Soul Shine before he was even diagnosed, and Janie said the event represents everything he loved: An opportunity to enjoy community and support something important. Soul Shine is also an opportunity to raise funds for Team Gleason, an organization focused on supporting those diagnosed with ALS as well as their families.

Like the disease itself, Team Gleason’s work is unique to each case. Janie and Jackie both said the nonprofit was critical in first making them feel supported and then navigating everything from insurance to assistive technology.

“When you’re diagnosed, the cure and the treatments are … [are] not coming fast enough for most people who are diagnosed today, and certainly not six years ago,”
Jackie said. 

While some organizations focus on a finding a cure for ALS—of which there is currently none—she said Team Gleason focuses on living fully with the disease. 

“They allow people to live with ALS as opposed to just sitting back and letting the disease take over,” Janie said. 

Those looking to donate to Team Gleason will have the opportunity to do so at Soul Shine, and donation links are also available on the Soul Shine website. 

Soul Shine 2022 will kick off with dedication of The Sanctuary in Fire Pit Park at 4 p.m. on June 23 and will be followed by a Town Bike Ride at 5 p.m. and a concert featuring bands Cole & The Thornes and headliner Satsang at 7:15 p.m. The Hungry Moose, now owned by Kristin Kern, will be providing food and hospitality in Len Hill Park throughout the music. 

Visit bigskysoulshine.org to learn more about Soul Shine and its effort to raise funds for Team Gleason. 

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